LONDON – Britain’s largest trade union for academics has voted to disassociate
itself from the EU working definition of anti-Semitism, leading to accusations
it is institutionally racist.
The University College Union (UCU) passed
the resolution at its annual conference in Harrogate in Yorkshire on Monday,
claiming that the European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia
definition stifles debate and is used to deflect criticism of Israel.
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motion, raised by activists on the National Executive Committee of the union who
in recent years have led on the call to boycott Israeli academia, maintains that
the charge of anti- Semitism is used to confuse criticism of Israeli government
policy and actions with genuine anti-Semitism, and is being used to silence
debate about Israel and Palestine on university campuses.
The move has
been condemned by an array of community officials and beyond, accusing it of
being institutionally racist. The union has refused on comment on the issue or
on the serious accusation leveled against it.
The UCU has been
mistreating its Jewish members over the last five years, “assaulting their
identity, ignoring their harassment in the Union and refusing to investigate
their resignations,” said Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of British
Jews. “Now UCU has gone further and simply redefined ‘anti-Semitism’ itself. UCU
will actually campaign for other organizations to stop fully fighting
anti-Semitism, and has changed its procedures so complaints from Jewish members
will be treated with suspicion.
“The truth is apparent: whatever the
motivations of its members, we believe UCU is an institutionally racist
organization,” Benjamin said.
Ronnie Fraser, director of the Academic
Friends of Israel spoke against the motion at the conference. The union has
crossed a red line, and “only anti-Semites” would disassociate themselves from
the EU Working Definition and vote in favor of the resolution,” Fraser
“By adopting this resolution today it confirms what I and my
colleagues have said in the past, that until the UCU takes complaints of
anti-Semitism seriously the UCU will continue to be labeled as an
institutionally anti-Semitic organization which pretends to be committed to
fighting anti-Semitism,” Fraser said. “What gives the UCU, a group of mainly
white, non-Jewish trade unionists the right to tell Jews what is and what is not
anti-Semitism? “Stating that the definition confuses criticism of Israeli
government policy and actions with genuine anti- Semitism is itself is a trope –
the Livingstone Formulation [named after former London mayor Ken Livingstone],
which states that Jews deliberately and maliciously accuse critics of Israel of
anti-Semitism in order to deflect and stifle legitimate criticism of Israel,” he
The World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) has also condemned the
decision, saying that the definition of anti- Semitism is used on a day-today
basis by the National Union of Students to combat anti-Semitism, as well as by
every major British Jewish communal body.
“The UCU has consistently shown
a total disregard for the welfare of Jewish students over an extended period of
time,” WUJS chairman Oliver Worth said. “WUJS completely rejects the assertion
that Jews cannot be trusted to define the ways in which they feel discriminated
against, and that the Jewish community is incapable of defining
“The UCU stinks of institutional anti-Semitism, and as an
organization that exists to protect Jewish students all over the world, we are
deeply, deeply concerned,” Worth said.
The incoming campaigns director of
the Union of Jewish Student, Dan Sheldon, pointed said that the UCU has never
used the Working Definition, nor has it ever proposed to start doing
“If the UCU were merely guilty of ignorance, that could be understood
and – through education and dialogue – resolved. If someone had proposed that
the UCU adopt the Working Definition, and the UCU were to reject it, that would
be the result of ignorance. Regrettable, but understandable.
the UCU has never used it, and nobody proposed that it should start doing so.
Instead, UCU has decided, apropos of nothing, to condemn the Working Definition
whilst offering no serious alternative. In doing so, they have singled out anti-
Semitism from other forms of prejudice as something only they, and not the
victims, have the right to identify,” Sheldon said.
On Sunday, the UCU
voted to support an academic and cultural boycott against Israel.